Based on a play by Kaj Munk of the same name, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) tells the story of the Borgen family, who are farmers living in the Denmark countryside. The film focuses on three sons: Mikkel, whose wife Inger is pregnant; Anders, who seeks the hand of local tailor’s daughter Anne; and Johannes, who has gone mad due to reading too much Kirkegaard and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Morten Borgen, their father, provides a structure and moral compass for the film. As the story progresses, the religious beliefs of all of these men come into conflict with those around them.
I was inspired to watch this film after reading an excellent mini-review over at Black Is White. Despite being a fan of Dreyer’s work, I’d never thought to watch this one, and now, I’m so glad I did. Ordet is a film that’s dramatic without hyperbole. It’s a film that relies on its skilful dialogue and character development to keep you watching. It’s a great example of a film that keeps its main theme of religion in a prime position, without beating you over the head with it.
Religion permeates most of the frames and conversations in the film, however, not once does the film attempt to convert or convince the viewer. Whether it’s a debate between Mikkel’s agnosticism and Inger’s devoted faith, or a scene where Johannes is proselytising from the top of a dune, or a scene where Anders is confronted with the fundamentalism of his beloved Anne’s family, the film poses many questions about Christianity for the purpose of exploring rather than explaining. With this in mind, the ending of the film is actually goosebumps-inducing, and was a complete surprise.
The visuals in Ordet are equal parts lush and expansive, but can also be very repressive. All of the interior shots are densely-packed and dark. However during certain key moments in the film, there is a sense of vast space in the light and setup of the scene. I really loved the cinematography of the film. Although it wasn’t as richly symbolic or ‘artsy’ as Dreyer’s previous work, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), there were a number of moments where the cinematography was absolutely stunning. This is a pretty amazing film that definitely deserves a watch, for its story, characters, dialogue, and beautiful visuals.
With that in mind, here are some examples of moments in the film where the cinematography is 100% amazing.
Warning: Some photos contain spoilers!
Watch the trailer here.